Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues

But I shot a man in Reno, Just to watch him dieJohnny Cash

It doesn’t get much better than that.

The man in black was The Man. Not many performers can cross genres like Johnny Cash did and still does. He first recorded this song in 1955 at Sun Records as the B side to “S3o Doggone Lonesome” but it was the live 1969 version that hit.

The At Folsom Prison album helped revitalize Cash’s career. Up to this point, his last Country top 40 entry was in 1964. This was recorded live at Folsom Prison in California on January 13, 1968, and that album came to define his outlaw image. The record company told him it wouldn’t work but Johnny recorded at the prison anyway.

Folsom Prison Blues peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Charts, #1 on the Canadian Country Charts, #32 on the Billboard 100,  and #17 on the Canadian Pop Charts.  The song and album generated a lot of interest in the rebellious Johnny Cash, who made prison reform his political cause of choice. He started regularly performing in jails, doing about 12 shows a year for free mostly in Folsom and San Quentin.

The album peaked at #1 in the Billboard Country Charts, #13 in the Billboard Album Charts, and #27 in Canada.

Johnny Cash Flipping Bird

This iconic picture came from Folsom Prison. According to photographer Jim Marshall…he asked Cash to express what he thought of the prison authorities when he played the show. Marshall told Cash “let’s do a shot for the warden” and the picture was born. 

Cash saw Crane Wilbur’s 90-minute film Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison while stationed in Germany. It left an impression on Cash, who emphasized the tale of the imprisoned men, and inspired him to write a song. Johnny Cash: “It was a violent movie, I just wanted to write a song that would tell what I thought it would be like in prison.”

Cash’s first prison performance occurred in 1957 when he performed for inmates at Huntsville State Prison. The favorable response inspired Cash to perform at more prisons through the years. His next hit, recorded in San Quentin Prison, was the humorous “A Boy Named Sue,” which proved that he could be clever and funny.

Cash came off as a champion for the oppressed.  He got his own national TV show in 1969 and became one of the most popular entertainers of his era. His guests included Derek and the Dominos,  Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Merle Haggard, James Taylor, Tammy Wynette, and Roy Orbison.

Isn’t that list incredible? Cash was considered a Country-Folk artist but look at the range of performers. The late sixties and seventies were like this ….and it’s the reason I like them so much…all the generations intersected at that point in time. I mean you have Eric Clapton and then you have Tammy Wynette on the guest list.

The lyrics to this song were based on a 1953 recording called Crescent City Blues by a bandleader named Gordon Jenkins with Beverly Maher on vocals. After filing a lawsuit, Gordon Jenkins received an out-of-court settlement from Cash in 1969. I have to say it does sound really close.

Johnny Cash: “I don’t see anything good come out of prison. You put them in like animals and tear out the souls and guts of them, and let them out worse than they went in.”

Rosanne Cash: “He was a real man with great faults, and great genius and beauty in him, but he wasn’t this guy who could save you or anyone else.”

Folsom Prison Blues

(Hello, I’m Johnny Cash)

I hear the train a-comin’
It’s rollin’ ’round the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine
Since I don’t know when
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison
And time keeps draggin’ on
But that train keeps a-rollin’
On down to San Antone

When I was just a baby
My Mama told me, “son
Always be a good boy
Don’t ever play with guns”
But I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowin’
I hang my head and cry (play it to the verse, yeah)
(Sue it)

I bet there’s rich folks eatin’
From a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee
And smokin’ big cigars
Well, I know I had it comin’
I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a-movin’
And that’s what tortures me (hit it)

(Howdy-ho)

Well, if they freed me from this prison
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I’d move it on, a little
Farther down the line
Far from Folsom Prison
That’s where I want to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle
Blow my blues away

(yeah)

Band – The Last Waltz

Happy Thanksgiving! Watching The Last Waltz is just as part of Thanksgiving as the meal with the family…that and Alice’s Restaurant which is coming.

The Band on Thanksgiving in 1976 at the Fillmore West. The film starts off with THIS FILM MUST BE PLAYED LOUD! A cut to Rick Danko playing pool and then it then to the Band playing “Don’t Do It”…the last song they performed that night after hours of playing. Through the music and some interviews, their musical journey and influences are retraced.

This film is considered by many the best concert film ever made. It was directed by Martin Scorsese. I love the setting with the chandeliers that were from the movie Gone With The Wind. The quality of the picture is great because it was shot with a 35-millimeter camera which wasn’t normally done with concerts.

Before the Band and guests hit the stage, Bill Graham, the promoter, served a Thanksgiving dinner to 5000 people that made up the audience with long tables with white tablecloths.

The Band’s musical guests included

Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Van Morrison (my favorite performance), Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters

The Staple Singers and Emmylou Harris also appear but their segments were taped later on a sound stage and not at the concert.

Robbie wanted off the road earlier and that is what the Last Waltz was all about…the last concert by The Band with a lot of musical friends. He was tired of touring and also the habits the band was picking up… drugs and drinking. Richard Manuel, in particular, was in bad shape and needed time.

The rest of the Band supposedly agreed but a few years later all of them but Robbie started to tour as The Band again. Richard Manuel ended up hanging himself in 1986. Rick Danko passed away in 1999 at the end of a tour of a heart attack attributed to years of drug and alcohol abuse. Levon Helm died of cancer in 2012.

The Band sounded great that night and it might be the best version you will ever hear of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

The Last Waltz is a grand farewell to a great band and a film that I revisit at least twice a year… once always around Thanksgiving.

The complete concert is at the bottom…without cuts.

Favorite Rock Lyrics 2

Everyone seemed to like the first one so I thought I would bring it back. I did list many of the lyrics that you suggested in the comments on the other post…SO… this post was written by all of us…and uh…the ones that actually wrote the songs!

Bob Dylan

Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear, it’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there... Bob Dylan

Rolling Stones

The sunshine bores the daylights out of me…Rolling Stones

Who

I asked Bobby Dylan, I asked The Beatles, I asked Timothy Leary, but he couldn’t help me either, they called me the Seeker…The Who

Grateful Dead

Cows are giving kerosene, the kid can’t read at seventeen, the words he knows are all obscene, but it’s alright… The Grateful Dead

band

You take what you need and you leave the rest, but they should never have taken the very best… The Band

Trogg

Wild thing you make my heart sing you make everything groovy… The Troggs

Springsteen

There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away… Bruce Springsteen

ACDC

Rich man, poor man, beggar man thief you ain’t got a hope in hell, that’s my belief… ACDC

Beatles - Rocky Raccoon

The farther one travels the less one knows the less one really knows …The Beatles

Leonard Cohen

My friends are gone and my hair is grey I ache in places I used to play …Leonard Cohen

John Lennon

Whatever gets you through the night … John Lennon

Replacements

God, what a mess, on the ladder of success Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung …The Replacements

Led Zeppelin 1976

Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face and stars fill my dream I’m a traveler of both time and space… Led Zeppelin

Kinks

Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, except for Lola La-la-la-la LolaThe Kinks

Queen

She keeps her Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet “Let them eat cake”, she says just like Marie AntoinetteQueen

van morrison almost independence day

Shammy cleaning all the windows singing songs about Edith Piaf’s soul… Van

neil young after the goldrush

You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain though you’re thinking that you’re leaving there too soon… Neil Young

Simon and Garfunkel concert Ohio University 10-29-1968

Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again…Simon and Garfunkel

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama

Ronnie Van Zant: “I confess, those songs are there to
cause some controversy. I like looking for trouble. I mean, I always dug
Neil Young and we’ve been friends ever since the song came out. It was just there to provoke a little excitement. Ya gotta catch the audience off guard to keep ’em
listening.”

I was never going to post this song because it is one of the most overplayed songs in rock history. I still like Ed King’s opening riff…it’s so crisp and clear. The Turn It Up phrase was a mistake. Van Zant was telling the engineer to turn up the volume in his headphones…they liked it so they kept it.

While writing this post I listened to the song around 5 times in headphones. I noticed things that I’ve overlooked through the years just because I was so familiar with it. The song has some great hooks, riffs, and piano fills. Forget the lyrics…the music for this song is full of catchy runs. I heard things I never heard before…I now know why it was a hit.

In a rehearsal for the first album Gary Rossington was playing around with the simple D-C-G chord structure and Ed King added the main intro. They knew they had something special and it was written in a few minutes. After writing this Van Zant said, “this is our Rambling Man” in reference to the Allman Brothers’ rare hit single. The song ended up on the second album (Second Helping) and became a breakout hit for the band.

The song peaked at #8 on the Billboard 100, #6 in Canada, and #31 in the UK in 1974. The band was very popular in the UK.

There’s absolutely zero doubt Sweet Home Alabama was a revenge song—a rebuttal to Neil Young’s Alabama and Southern Man…for the sweeping generalization of all southerners as bigots past and at that time present by Neil. Neil even admits this now.

Neil Young: “My own song ‘Alabama’ richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”

There is also an easter egg in the song. After Van Zant sings “Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her” you can hear what sounds like Neil Young singing Southern Man out of the left speaker…it’s Al Kooper the producer imitating Young. You need headphones to hear it.

This song did not start any bad feelings between the two singers in fact it drew them closer. Neil was a fan of Van Zant and Van Zant was a fan of Neil and wore his shirt many times. Neil Young sent Ronnie Van Zant the song Powderfinger for the band to record but the plane crash put an end to that. Young performed Sweet Home Alabama one time only at a benefit less than a month after the plane crash as a tribute to them.

Just as Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA was misinterpreted, this song was also. The line about George Wallace has drawn controversy… In Birmingham they love the governor (Boo, Boo, Boo). Some ignored the boo’s, and at first thought, they endorsed the guy.

Ronnie Van Zant: “Wallace and I have very little in common, I don’t like what he says about black people.”

In the Watergate lyrics, it’s been said that Van Zant was saying the north made mistakes also. The Swamper’s lyrics are about the Muscle Shoals recording band with Jimmy Johnson.

The backup singers were Merry Clayton and Clydie King. Merry Clayton was on Gimme Shelter and amazingly enough…Southern Man by Neil Young.

The band would also dive into gun control with “Saturday Night Special” and saving the environment  with “All I Can Do Is Write About It.

Ronnie Van Zant: “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two. We’re southern rebels, but more than that, we know the difference between right and wrong.”

Sweet Home Alabama

Big wheels keep on turning
Carrying me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think it’s a sin, yes

Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her
Well I heard old Neil put her down
Well I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

In Birmingham they love the governor (boo, boo, boo)
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Here I come Alabama

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

Sweet home Alabama (Oh sweet home baby)
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama (Lordy)
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Yea, yea

Buffalo Springfield – Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing

My friend and I discovered his father’s Buffalo Springfield’s greatest hits album in the early eighties. I grew to be a fan then and there, before I knew about Stills, Young, and the rest. Broken Arrow was my favorite song but Mr. Soul, For What It’s Worth, and this one we could not get enough of.

This song was Buffalo Springfield’s first single and the breakout for both Stephen Stills and Neil Young – although it wasn’t supposed to be. Originally the song Go and Say Goodbye by Stephen Stills on the A-side and Young’s Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing on the B-side, before their producers caved to pressure from distributors and flipped the sides.

Richie Furay sings the lead on this song after hearing Young play it earlier. Furay had songs he wanted to include on the album. His songs got lost in the shuffle with the Stills and Young and the developing rivalry between the two.

It wasn’t a smash by any means, but it charted at #110 in the Billboard 100 and #75 in Canada in 1966… so it got some airplay and was a regional success in California. Their album Buffalo Springfield peaked at #80 in the Billboard Album charts in 1967.

In Los Angeles, California’s WKHJ was the first radio station to play the song. Buffalo Springfield’s management arranged this feat by giving the station advanced tapes of “A Day In The Life” by the Beatles, which gave them the chance to break the song ahead of anyone else.

Neil Young wrote this song, which is partially based on one of his real-life schoolmates. Ross “Clancy” Smith attended Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, Canada, with Young.

Neil Young: “He was a kind of persecuted member of the community. He used to be able to do something, sing or something, and then he wasn’t able to do it anymore. The fact was that all the other problems or things that were seemingly important didn’t mean anything anymore because he couldn’t do what he wanted to do.”

The Carpenters did a version on their album Ticket To Ride in 1969.

From Songfacts

Further stress on the band’s debut was brought about by frustration with their producers. Though the legendary Ahmet Ertegun was their mentor, they’d been hooked up through the management team of Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, who were clearly out of their depth. Greene and Stone named themselves Buffalo Springfield’s producers and had them signed not to Atlantic proper or even their subsidiary Atco, but to their own York/Pala Records label, giving them a bigger slice of the profit pie than they otherwise would have been entitled to. As drummer Bruce Palmer is quoted in Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, “They were the sleaziest, most underhanded, backstabbing motherf–kers in the business! They were the best!”

Also from that book: “What hurt the album more than anything, though, was Greene and Stone’s production. Despite the Springfield’s strength as a live act, the managers forced each musician to record separately, piecing the parts together. Worse, after the band participated in the mono mix, Greene and Stone quickly converted the album to stereo, resulting in a tinny mix that outrages the group to this day. Young commented that Greene and Stone made them sound like the All-Insect Orchestra.”

In the same book, classmate Diana Halter says Clancy had multiple sclerosis, and was “so intelligent and so bright that he masked the sweet soul beneath it all.”

All accounts taken together, it’s hard to put an exact picture together of what made Clancy such a standout figure, but all agree he was exactly that.

Though Clancy was an inspiring figure in the song, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is about Young as much as it about Clancy. He wrote it in 1965 after having a terrible time in Toronto, where his attempts to get things going as a professional musician totally flopped. The rejection he experienced there was so complete (“humbling,” as he called it) that it sent him into a fit of introspective, frustrated songwriting. Out of this pain began to emerge the songwriting style on which Young would build his legend. The pinnacle of those songs, many of which were only recorded on demos or not recorded at all, was “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing.”

Released on Buffalo Springfield’s eponymous debut album, the song peaked at #110, which wasn’t very good at that time. Unlike the modern era when there are so many bands and expectations are a bit more muted, back then a major-label act, even a new one, was expected to at least break into the top 100 to be considered commercially viable. The song was popular in the Los Angeles area, however, which was the nexus of hippie counterculture.

Young first recorded this song on a January 1966 demo for Elektra Records (Elektra rejected the demos). It can be heard on the 2009 release of The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972.

There’s a live solo recording of the song on Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968.

The psychedelic band Fever Tree recorded the song in 1968 on their self-titled debut album. 

Furay got an early preview of this song from Young himself when the Canadian visited Furay’s New York City apartment. He was auditioning to be house performer at a nightclub called the The Bitter End and played it there. Some of the auditions were recorded but haven’t been released anywhere.

The Clancy Brothers inspired the musical form in this song, with its Irish-styled 2/4 rhythm verses and 3/4 rhythm choruses.

Many journalists and historians have noted this song as Young’s artistic breakthrough, the one that helped him find the niche that would give him the kind of appeal that endured over 50 years later.

Who’s coming home on old 95?

Einarson in Don’t Be Denied posits that this line might refer to a trip that Young took home to Winnipeg in the fall of ’65, suggesting that the train was numbered 95.

Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing

Hey who’s that stomping all over my face?
Where’s that silhouette I’m trying to trace?
Who’s putting sponge in the bells I once rung?
And taking my gypsy before she’s begun?
To singing the meaning of what’s in my mind
Before I can take home what’s rightfully mine
Joinin’ and listenin’ and talkin’ in rhymes
Stoppin’ the feeling to wait for the times
Who’s saying baby that don’t mean a thing
‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing

And who’s all hung-up on that happiness thing?
Who’s trying to tune all the bells that he rings?
And who’s in the corner and down on the floor?
With pencil and paper just counting the score?
And who’s trying to act like he just in between?
The night isn’t black, it can only be screened
Don’t bother looking you’re too blind to see
Who’s coming on like he wanted to be
Who’s saying baby, that don’t mean a thing
‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing

And who’s coming home on the old ninety five?
Who’s got the feeling to keep him alive
Though havin’ it, sharin’ it ain’t quite the same
It ain’t no gold nugget you can’t lay a claim
Who’s seeing eyes through the crack in the floor
There it is baby don’t you worry no more
Who should be sleepin’ but is writing this song
Wishin’ and a-hopin’ he weren’t so damned wrong
Who’s saying baby, that don’t mean a thing
‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing
Who’s saying baby that don’t mean a thing
‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing

Neil Young – Southern Man

A few days ago this song has come up in conversation with a friend of mine. We talked about it and then my friend Dave from A Sound Day posted about it a few days later.

I love the power of the song and I’ve learned it on guitar but as a southern person… I think Neil generalized too much. Even Neil thinks that now. His quote on the song now is “I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.” Are there people like that in the world? Certainly but they are not all located in the south.

Lynyrd Skynyrd replied to this song with their biggest hit Sweet Home Alabama. Neil was quite happy with “Sweet Home Alabama.” He said, “They play like they mean it, I’m proud to have my name in a song like theirs.”

Young is mentioned in the line “I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” Lynyrd Skynyrd were big fans of Young. “Sweet Home Alabama” was meant as a good-natured answer to this, explaining the good things about Alabama. Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt often wore Neil Young T-shirts while performing and he was thinking of covering a Young song called Powderfinger before his death in the crash.

The song was on “After the Gold Rush” released in 1970.

Neil Young: “Oh, they didn’t really put me down! But then again, maybe they did! (laughs) But not in a way that matters. S–t, I think ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is a great song. I’ve actually performed it live a couple of times myself.”

From Songfacts

In the liner notes for his greatest hits album Decade, Young wrote: “This song could have been written on a civil rights march after stopping off to watch Gone With The Wind at a local theater.”

Young was backed by his band Crazy Horse on this track:

Danny Whitten – guitar
Jack Nitzsche – piano
Nils Lofgren – guitar
Billy Talbot – bass
Ralph Molina – drums

Nils Lofgren, a guitarist by trade, played piano on this song, an instrument he never played before After The Gold Rush. Young tasked Lofgren with playing piano as a “special trial,” according to Jimmy McDonough’s Shakey.

In trying to get the piano down, Lofgren tapped into his background with accordion. “I used to be an accordion player, and accordion’s all ‘oompah oompah,'” he said. “So I started doin’ the accordion thing on piano.”

To Lofgren’s surprise, Young loved it.

“That’s the sound I was looking for,” Young said. “I didn’t want to hear a bunch of f–kin’ licks. I don’t like musicians playing licks.”

Director Jonathan Demme first cut the opening sequence of his movie Philadelphia to this song in an effort to get Young to write a song like it for the film. Young gave him “Philadelphia,” which he used over the end. Bruce Springsteen’s contribution, “Streets Of Philadelphia,” was used over the open.

Young was married to his first wife, Susan Acevedo, when he wrote this song in his Topanga Canyon studio. They were not getting along, and Young’s foul mood translated into this track, which he described as “an angry song.”

Randy Newman felt that “Southern Man” was one of Young’s least interesting songs. “‘Southern Man,’ ‘Alabama’ are a little misguided,” he said. “It’s too easy a target. I don’t think he knows enough about it.”

During a filmed performance of this song at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, Crazy Horse’s Billy Talbot and Frank “Poncho” Sampredro dropped acid. “I can vividly remember ‘Southern Man,'” Sampredro’s said in Shakey. “It was wildly out of control – fast, slow, up, down, everywhere. At the end we were singing, I had my eyes closed and I hear this little tiny voice and I turn around and it was just me. Everybody else had quit even playing.”

Southern Man

Southern man, better keep your head.
Don’t forget what your good book said.
Southern change gonna come at last.
Now your crosses are burning fast.

Southern man.

I saw cotton and I saw black.
Tall white mansions and little shacks.
Southern man, when will you pay them back?

I heard screamin’ and bullwhips cracking.
How long? How long?

Southern man, better keep your head.
Don’t forget what your good book said.
Southern change gonna come at last.
Now your crosses are burning fast.

Southern man.

Lily Belle, your hair is golden brown.
I’ve seen your black man comin’ round.
Swear by God, I’m gonna cut him down!

I heard screamin’ and bullwhips cracking.
How long? How long?

Famous Rock Guitars Part 3

Now we continue our quest of famous guitars and the artists cherish them… Here was Part 1  and Part 2.

Bruce Springsteen and  Neil Young’s guitars

Bruce Springsteen’s Guitar

Bruce has stuck with this guitar from the first album until now. You see this guitar on his Born to Run album. When I saw him in 2000 he was playing it. Bruce bought this in 1972 in Phil Petillo’s Neptune New Jersey guitar shop for $185. Now the guitar  is said to be worth between $1 million and $5 million…pretty good investment Bruce!

The guitar is a composite assembled from parts from at least two other Fender guitars. The bolt-on neck dates from a 1950s Fender Esquire guitar. The Esquire decal on the headstock indicates that the neck came from the single-pickup variant of Fender’s more-popular two-pickup Telecaster. The body is a 1950’s Telecaster

The guitar had been originally owned by a record company and was part of the payola scams of the 1960s. It was rigged with four pickups wired into extra jacks that would each plug into a separate channel on the recording console.

Petillo removed the extra pickups and returned the guitar to original Telecaster shape before he sold it Springsteen, but a huge side effect of the routing was that the Tele was now really light, giving it a sound a feel unlike any other.

Bruce had Peillo modify it over the years. He added his  triangular Precision Frets, a six saddle titanium bridge, and custom hot-wound waterproofed pickups and electronics so they could better survive a sweat-soaked 4 hour show.

Bruce has now retired the Esquire from road duty, so these days Springsteen plays clones on stage, but still records with the original.

Neil Young’s “Old Black”

Neil Young is known mostly as a singer songwriter but he is a hell of a guitar player. He is one of my favorite rock guitarists. He doesn’t play lightning quick and that is a good thing…it’s playing with feel that many guitar players forget about.

Neil Young acquired Old Black in 1968 through a trade with Buffalo Springfield member Jim Messina, who traded Old Black for one of Young’s orange Gretsch guitars (Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins).

The guitar made a humming sound so he dropped it off at a guitar shop in LA. When he came back, the shop had closed for good and lost one of the pickups. To replace the lost pickup, Neil added a Gretsh pickup that didn’t quite sound the way he wanted, but it stayed that way until Larry Cragg found an old Firebird pickup and installed it. Then Old Black was restored to its former glory and that Firebird pickup is still installed on the guitar today. It was roughly resprayed to jet black, and received a new Tune-o-matic bridge (not available when the guitar was produced) and a B-7 model Bigsby vibrato tailpiece.

The neck pickup has always been the original P-90 pickup, but it is covered by a metal P-90 cover. Neil is still playing Old Black to this day and he said he will until he dies.

Neil Young – Long May You Run

Neil wrote “Long May You Run” in tribute to Mort, his old 1948 Buck Roadmaster hearse.

Neil Young and his band The Squires posing with his hearse Mort (a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse Neil had nicknamed Mortimer Hearseburg) in Winnipeg, Manitoba in April 1965

“It had rollers for the coffin in the back, so we just rolled our our amps in and out. It was like they built it for us”  The hearse broke down in Blind River in 1965 where Neil refused to abandon the hearse for two days until he finally gave up.

He soon bought another hearse, Mort Two, which Stephen Stills spotted him driving  in Los Angeles in 1966 when Buffalo Springfield was formed.

Neil would later pay tribute to the original Mort in his song Long May You Run, the title track of The Stills-Young Band album. The album was released in 1976 and peaked at #26 in the Billboard Album Charts, #26 in Canada, and #12 in the UK.

Neil and Stephen Stills toured on this album and Mr. Young decided to leave tour abruptly. He did leave Stills a note: “Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.”

The song charted in 1993 from MTV’s Unplugged…it peaked at #34 in the Mainstream Rock Song charts and #28 in Canada.

From Songfacts

Neil was in Canada driving to Sudbury when ‘Mort’ broke down in Blind River, June 1965. (Which is contradictory to the lyrics; “well it was back in Blind River, in 1962, when I last saw you alive”).

In 1976, Stephen Stills and Neil Young formed The Stills-Young Band and released an album called Long May You Run, which turned out to be somewhat ironic when the collaboration quickly stalled.

Stills and Young wrote separately for the album, which Stephen contributing four songs, and Young adding five, including the title track.

Stills is a longtime collaborator of Neil’s, having worked with him first in Buffalo Springfield and then in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. However, they had a falling out only nine days into the Long May You Run tour. Young decided to abandon the project, leaving Stills with a mere telegram to explain his departure. It read: “Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.”

In addition to Young’s compilation album Decade this also appears on his 1993 album Unplugged

The last ever Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien on Friday January 22, 2010 finished in style when O’Brien’s final musical guest, Neil Young, performed this song in what appeared to be a poke at NBC. O’Brien had been asked to move his slot to 12:05 a.m., and the TV host refused to move his show to such a late hour, and instead negotiated a $45 million exit deal.

Neil Young performed this song at the Closing Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games to a rousing ovation of Canadian audience members.

Long May You Run

We’ve been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come
We found things to do in stormy weather
Long may you run.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run.

Well, it was back in Blind River in 1962
When I last saw you alive
But we missed that shift on the long decline
Long may you run.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run.

Maybe The Beach Boys have got you now
With those waves singing “Caroline”
Rollin’ down that empty ocean road
Gettin’ to the surf on time.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run.

Neil Young – Old Man

Neil Young wrote this about the caretaker of the ranch he bought in 1970.

His name was Louis Avila. The ranch was the Broken Arrow Ranch, purchased for $350,000 in 1970 (I have to wonder what it would cost now). Reportedly, Avila was giving Young a tour of the place and asked him how a young man like him could afford a place like this. Young, aged 25, replied “Well, just lucky, Louie, just real lucky.’ And Louis said, ‘Well, that’s the darndest thing I ever heard.’

Neil Young Archives on Twitter: "February 71' Neil and Louis Avila on  Broken Arrow Ranch,1970, just around the time it was purchased. Neil lived  there for 44 years. Taking care of the

Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor sang backing vocals on  Old Man and another Harvest track, Heart of Gold. James Taylor played six-string banjo.

Old Man peaked at #31 in the Billboard 100 and #4 in Canada in 1972. Looks like Canada got this right.

Linda Ronstadt: “I can’t remember why Neil wanted me to sing with him – I guess he just figured I was there and could do it but we went in there and they were doing ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ and I thought they were such beautiful songs. I loved them.

And I knew how to do harmonies. I’d listened to the Buffalo Springfield harmonies and I knew how to get that 7th they always used. I don’t think we started until midnight and it was dawn when we came out, and it was snowing – we came out to this beautiful snow storm in the rising sun. It was really exciting. I just thought I’ve been part of something really wonderful.”

Neil Young: About that time when I wrote (Heart of Gold), and I was touring, I had also — just, you know, being a rich hippie for the first time — I had purchased a ranch, and I still live there today.

And there was a couple living on it that were the caretakers, an old gentleman named Louis Avala and his wife Clara. And there was this old blue Jeep there, and Louis took me for a ride in this blue Jeep. He gets me up there on the top side of the place, and there’s this lake up there that fed all the pastures, and he says, ‘Well, tell me, how does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?’

And I said, ‘Well, just lucky, Louie, just real lucky.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s the darndest thing I ever heard.’

From Songfacts

This was the first song recorded for the Harvest album. Neil Young arranged the session the previous night when he was at a party held at Quadrafonic Studios in Nashville (he was in town to record a segment for Johnny Cash’s TV show). The studio owner Elliot Mazer was also a producer who had worked with a band Young admired called Area Code 615. Young asked if he could record there the next day, and Mazer complied, supplying not just the studio, but also the musicians.

The session took place on Saturday, February 6, 1971 with a group of Music City studio pros: Ben Keith on pedal steel guitar, Tim Drummond on bass and Kenny Buttrey on drums.

It was never the metric on which he wanted to be judged, but “Old Man” was the second-biggest hit for Neil Young as a solo artist, reaching #31 on the Hot 100. His biggest hit, by far, was his previous single, the Harvest track “Heart of Gold,” which went to #1.

There was some conflict over a hi-hat when Young recorded this song. When drummer Kenny Buttrey played it, Young told him not only to refrain from the hi-hat, but to only play with his left hand, which Buttrey thought was ridiculous. The drummer complied, however, literally sitting on his right hand to resist temptation. Buttrey later quipped: “He hires some of the best musicians in the world and has them play as stupid as they possibly can.”

It was immediately after the success of “Old Man” and the Harvest album that Danny Whitten, central to Young’s band Crazy Horse, passed away. Young invited Whitten to audition for his backing band the Stray Gators on the condition that he cleaned up his substance abuse. Young gave him a trial, but it looked to be the same old story with Whitten, so he fired him. Whitten promptly went home and overdosed, found dead with Valium and alcohol in his system.

Young got the call that night, and was devastated. Whitten’s death was part of the darkening of Neil Young’s act during the time following “Old Man;” it wasn’t just the success or being “headed for the ditch.”

Young told Jimmy McDonough that the line “Does it mean that much to me, to mean that much to you?” is meant to be directed towards the audience.

James Taylor is credited with playing “guitar-banjo” on this song. Taylor, who along with Linda Ronstadt was in the studio recording vocals, saw the banjo and started playing it. The instrument belonged to Young; it was a called a “guitar-banjo” because it was a banjo tuned like a guitar.

Bob Dylan covered this song throughout his 2002 tour.

This song has appeared in various films over the years, including Due Date, Lords of Dogtown, and Wonder Boys.

2015 The Voice champion Sawyer Fredericks covered the song during the show’s finale. The following week his version reached #63 on the Hot 100.

In 2018, a 72-years Young said during a concert in Chicago: “It’s hard to do ‘Old Man’ now. It’s like, ‘Old man take a look at my life, I’m a lot like I am.”

At the memorial service for actor Heath Ledger, “Old Man” was chosen as the song to play over a slideshow showing his various roles and life.

Old Man

Old man, look at my life
I’m a lot like you were
Old man look at my life
I’m a lot like you were

Old man, look at my life
Twenty four and there’s so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two

Love lost, such a cost
Give me things that don’t get lost
Like a coin that won’t get tossed
Rolling home to you

Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true

Lullabies, look in your eyes
Run around the same old town
Doesn’t mean that much to me
To mean that much to you

I’ve been first and last
Look at how the time goes past
But I’m all alone at last
Rolling home to you

Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true

Neil Young – Rocking In A Free World

This is from our favorite Canadian Neil Young. It surprised me that this was released in 1989. I remember it the most in the 90s.

This was inspired by the political changes going on at the time, and was highly critical of the George Bush Sr. Some of the lyrics mock Bush’s campaign speeches: “We got 1,000 points of light, for the homeless man,” “We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand.”

Rocking In A Free World was written in February 1989, as Neil Young toured the Pacific Northwest. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni had just issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie because of his controversial novel The Satanic Verses and Russia had recently withdrawn its forces from Afghanistan.

Pearl Jam have performed this song from time to time with Young, who they said that Neil is their musical mentor. The first time they performed it together was at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards, where the “Jermey” video won four awards. Young came on as a surprise guest.

Pearl Jam has used this as the closing song in many of their concerts. The band played several times at Young’s Bridge School concerts.

The song peaked at #2 in the Mainstream Rock Chart and #39 in Canada. The song is rated number 216 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

From Songfacts

This was released a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It became kind of an anthem for the event as freedom spread through Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile Young and his guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, were musing on global events as they traveled to Portland.

“There was supposed to have been a cultural exchange between Russia and United States,” Sampedro recalled to Mojo in a 2018 interview. “Russia was getting Neil Young and Crazy Horse and we were getting the Russian ballet! All of a sudden, whoever was promoting the deal, a guy in Russia, took the money and split. We were all bummed, and I looked at him and said, ‘Man I guess we’re just gonna have to keep on rockin in the free world. He said, ‘Well, Poncho, that’s a good line. I’m gonna use that, if you don’t mind.'”

“So we checked into the hotel in Portland,” the guitarist continued. “And we needed a song. We needed a rocker. We’d written some songs and they were good but we didn’t have a real rocker. I said, ‘Look man, tonight, get in your room, think about all this stuff that’s going down – the Ayatollah, all the stuff in Afghanistan, all these wars breaking out, all the problems in America… “Keep On rockin in the free world,” you got that: put something together man, let’s have a song!’ And the next morning, we got on the bus to leave and he says, ‘OK, I did it!'”

Young used members of his former backing group The Bluenotes to record this.


Young and Pearl Jam proved a great fit, as both eschew convention when it comes to music and promotion, catering instead to their ardent fan bases. The MTV appearance was an anomaly – Pearl Jam didn’t make another video for five years. In 1995, they collaborated on Young’s 1995 album Mirror Ball
.

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Young performed this at the 7th annual Bridge School benefit in 1993 with all the artists involved joining Young on stage to close the show. Young put on the concert for the school, which serves children with special needs, every year until 2017.

.Neil Young played with Pearl Jam on 1995’s Merkinball, a 2-song EP that featured the songs “I Got ID” on one side and “The Long Road” on the other. Merkinball was a case of Young returning the favor to Pearl Jam. They had served as his “backing band” on his 1995 album Mirrorball. Contractual stipulations prevented Mirrorball from being credited to both artists and recognized as the collaborative effort it actually was (The name “Pearl Jam” was not legally allowed to appear on either the album’s cover or within its liner notes). “I Got ID” and “Long Road” were actually recorded during the Mirrorball sessions. 

The song is on occasion used as a pro-America anthem, which ignores many of the ironic overtones of the lyrics. While the chorus does seem to celebrate the United States, it’s juxtaposed with grim verses which paint a haunting portrait of life in modern America – the song is sometimes interpreted as a critique of the “keep on rocking in the free world” sentiment that US citizens use to ignore global problems that don’t concern them.

Much like his seminal “My My, Hey Hey”/”Hey Hey, My My” counterparts, the widely known version of “Rockin’ In The Free World” is a loud, electric reprise of a stripped-down acoustic version that opens the Freedom album.

Rolling Stone rated this #216 on their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.

Young is very particular about where his songs are used. He authorized this one for the 2004 Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, and also for the 2015 film The Big Short, which tells the story of the rapacious financial workers who caused the 2008 recession. It also appears in the video game Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.

The track was used in Donald Trump’s announcement that he will run as a Republican candidate for the 2016 presidency. Young, a longtime supporter of Bernie Sanders, said that the mogul was not authorized to use the song.

Trump’s campaign responded by saying it did pay to use Neil Young’s tune at the presidential announcement, but won’t use Young’s music at any future events. “Through a licensing agreement with ASCAP, Mr. Trump’s campaign paid for and obtained the legal right to use Neil Young’s recording of ‘Rockin’ In The Free World,'” the statement read. “Nevertheless, there are plenty of other songs to choose from. Despite Neil’s differing political views, Mr. Trump likes him very much.”

Trump later hit back, posting a photo of him and Young shaking hands, and explaining that Young asked him for financing on an audio deal and invited Trump to a concert. In a Tweet, Trump called Young a “total hypocrite,” adding, “‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ was just one of 10 songs used as background music. Didn’t love it anyway.”

Rocking In A Free World

There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign
on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’
we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan,
but I am to them
So I try to forget it,
any way I can.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

I see a woman in the night
With a baby in her hand
Under an old street light
Near a garbage can
Now she puts the kid away,
and she’s gone to get a hit
She hates her life,
and what she’s done to it
There’s one more kid
that will never go to school
Never get to fall in love,
never get to be cool.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler,
Machine gun hand
We got department stores
and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes
for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people,
says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn,
got roads to drive.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world,
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

Buffalo Springfield – Expecting To Fly

I had a friend’s dad who owned their 1969 greatest hits album when I was in sixth grade and we wore it out. Broken Arrow and Expecting to fly were the ones we played over and over and heard something we missed on the previous play.

Buffalo Springfield were only active between 1966-68 but had a huge impact on other artists. The band was very talented……with Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer, Dewey Martin and Jim Messina who replaced Bruce Palmer. They had some great songs like Mr Soul, Now days Clancy Can’t Even Sing, Burned, Expecting to Fly, Bluebird, Rock and Roll Woman, Broken Arrow and their big hit For What It’s Worth…

Ritchie Furay and Steven Stills had played together in the Au Go Go Singers. Bruce Palmer and Neil Young had played together in the Mynah Birds. That band featured Rick James on lead vocals and was signed to Motown.

It was written by Neil Young. The song peaked at #98 in the Billboard 100 in 1968.

 

Expecting to Fly

There you stood on the edge of your feather,
Expecting to fly.
While I laughed, I wondered whether
I could wave goodbye,
Knowin’ that you’d gone.
By the summer it was healing,
We had said goodbye.
All the years we’d spent with feeling
Ended with a cry,
Babe, ended with a cry,
Babe, ended with a cry.

I tried so hard to stand
As I stumbled and fell to the ground.
So hard to laugh as I fumbled
And reached for the love I found,
Knowin’ it was gone.
If I never lived without you,
Now you know I’d die.
If I never said I loved you,
Now you know I’d try,
Babe, now you know I’d try.
Babe, now you know I’d try,
Babe.

The Mynah Birds

Super Freak meets Heart of Gold

They were the first mostly white band signed to Motown Records in 1966. So who was the band’s lead singer? A young AWOL American sailor who went by the name of Ricky James Matthews, later Rick James. On lead guitar you had Canadian Neil Young.

The band lasted from 1964 to 1967.

The band didn’t last a long time but the memorable lineup was Rick James, Neil Young, Bruce Palmer, Rickman Mason, and John Taylor. Neil and Bruce would later be members of Buffalo Springfield. Earlier members  Goldy McJohn and Nick St. Nicholas would later become members of Steppenwolf.

Canadian rocker Neil Merryweather was also an earlier member of the band.

Neil joined in 1965 and Neil and James wrote some songs together and they were recorded…but the band’s manager apparently misappropriated their advance money from Motown and they fired the manager. In return, the manager informed Motown that the band’s singer was AWOL from the Navy. Rick James was taken into custody and incarcerated by the Navy. “It’s My Time” remained unreleased, and Motown scrapped plans for a Mynah Birds album.

The music was not released until the single was included in the 2006 box set The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 6: 1966

Neil and Bruce bought a hearse…yes a hearse when Rick was detained and drove to California to start Buffalo Springfield.

The Mynah Birds were a really good band. In a biography of Neil Young called Shakey… Jimmy McDonough writes this:

The Mynah Birds—in black leather jackets, yellow turtlenecks and boots—had quite a surreal scene going…. Those lucky enough to see any of the band’s few gigs say they were electrifying. ‘Neil would stop playing lead, do a harp solo, throw the harmonica way up in the air and Ricky would catch it and continue the solo.’

Neil Young: “We got more and more into how cool the Stones were. How simple they were and how cool it was.” James had them play “Get Off My Cloud” and “Satisfaction”—before the braids, cocaine, and sequins, Rick James “fancied himself the next Mick Jagger.”

The band did get back together with different members when Rick James returned in 1967…but they soon broke up.

If you want to read more about them check out the links below.

https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/neil-young-rick-james-the-mynah-birds/

https://afropunk.com/2014/08/feature-the-strange-history-of-the-mynah-birds-the-lost-rb-supergroup-ft-rick-james-and-neil-young-soundcheck/

 

 

 

Neil Young – The Needle and the Damage Done

This is a powerful song by Neil. This song was the B side of Old Man. It’s gotten a lot of airplay through the years and serves as a cautionary tale for drug use. The lyric “every junkie’s like a settin’ sun” says it all.

Neil Young wrote this one about Danny Whitten, one of the original members of his band Crazy Horse. In 1971, Young went on tour and hired Crazy Horse and Nils Lofgren as backup. During rehearsals, Whitten was so high on heroin that he couldn’t even hold up his guitar. Young fired him, gave Whitten 50 bucks (for rehab) and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. Upon reaching LA, Whitten overdosed on alcohol and Valium, which killed him.

This wouldn’t be Young’s only loss from heroin. Longtime friend and roadie Bruce Berry would also overdose on heroin just months after Whitten. Berry’s song is “Tonight’s The Night,” on the album of the same name.

The song was on Harvest which peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Charts.

Neil Young on Danny Whitten: “I felt responsible. But really there was nothing I could do. I mean, he was responsible. But I thought I was for a long time. Danny just wasn’t happy. It just all came down on him. He was engulfed by this drug. That was too bad. Because Danny had a lot to give. boy. He was really good.”

 

From Songfacts
Danny Whitten was one of the founding members of Crazy Horse and was very influential on much of Young’s work preceding his heroin addiction. His influence is particularly noticeable on Young’s second album, 1969’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Leading up to Whitten’s dismissal from the band and overdose, Young even attempted daily one-on-one lessons to try and rehabilitate his old friend.

As quoted in Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Neil Young says of the tragic death of Whitten: 

The song’s first line mentions a “cellar door.” Young and Crazy Horse, with Whitten, had played Washington DC’s Cellar Door club in 1969.

Young’s famous version was recorded live at the University Of California in January 1971, a year before it appeared on his Harvest album.

A solo, acoustic performance of this song by Young from Massey Hall in Toronto on January 19, 1971 features on his 2007 Live at Massey Hall 1971 album. He introduces it with a short explanation: “Ever since I left Canada, about five years ago or so and moved down south… found out a lot of things that I didn’t know when I left. Some of ’em are good, and some of ’em are bad. Got to see a lot of great musicians before they happened, before they became famous – y’know, when they were just gigging. Five and six sets a night, things like that. And I got to see a lot of great musicians who nobody ever got to see, for one reason or another. But, strangely enough, the real good ones that you never got to see was… ’cause of, ahhm, heroin. An’ that started happening over an’ over. Then it happened to someone that everyone knew about. So I just wrote a little song.”

This was one of the songs that Young performed at Live Aid in 1985.

Young made this succinct statement about the song in the liner notes to his album Decade: “I am not a preacher, but drugs killed a lot of great men.”

Flea, famed bassist of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, played the song frequently on a 1993 tour following the singer John Frusciante’s temporary departure due to heroin addiction.

The song has struck a long-lived chord with broad range of musicians. Over the years, it’s also been covered by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews, and Jewel.

At Young’s 1995 Bridge School benefit concert, the Pretenders sang this in honor of Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon, who died a week earlier from a drug overdose. Blind Melon was scheduled to play the event but canceled after Hoon’s death.

The Needle and the Damage Done

I caught you knockin’ at my cellar door,
I love you baby can I have some more?
Oh, the damage done.

I hit the city and I lost my band,
I watched the needle take another man.
Gone, gone, the damage done.

I sing the song because I love the man,
I know that some of you don’t understand.
Milk blood to keep from runnin’ out.

I’ve seen the needle and the damage done,
a little part of it in everyone,
but every junkie’s like a settin’ sun.

Neil Young – Heart Of Gold

A giant hit for Neil Young.

James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sang backup on this song. They don’t come in until the end of the song. Like Young, Taylor and Ronstadt were in town to appear on The Johnny Cash Show (the song’s producer Elliot Mazer had produced Ronstadt’s 1970 Silk Purse album). Young convinced them to lend their voices to this track, and they came in the day after the rest of the song was completed.

This song was recorded in Nashville in just two takes. The musicians were not familiar with Young or the song. This spontaneity created just the right feel for the track…something that would have never come about through additional tweaking. This style of recording, where top-tier studio musicians are asked to give total focus to a take with little instruction, is something Bob Dylan often did.

By far, this was the biggest hit for Young as a solo artist, Peaking at #1 on the Billboard 100 in 1972…the Harvest album peaked at #1 a week earlier,

Linda Ronstadt: “We were sat on the couch in the control room, but I had to get up on my knees to be on the same level as James because he’s so tall. Then we sang all night, the highest notes I could sing. It was so hard, but nobody minded. It was dawn when we walked out of the studio.”

 

From Songfacts

With a straightforward metaphor and complete lack of pathos, this is not a typical Neil Young song. It finds him mining for a “heart of gold,” which depending on your perspective, is either a touching and heartfelt sentiment, or a mawkish platitude. Rolling Stone took the churlish view, complaining that the album evoked “superstardom’s weariest clichés.” The listening public and Young’s fans were far more accepting, and the song became his biggest hit.

Young wrote this in 1971 after he suffered a back injury that made it difficult for him to play the electric guitar, so on the Harvest tracks he played acoustic. Despite the injury, Young was in good spirits (possibly thanks to the painkillers), which is reflected in this song. The next few years were more challenging for Young, as he suffered a series of setbacks: His son Zeke was born with cerebral palsy, his friend Danny Whitten died, and he split with his girlfriend, Carrie Snodgress. His next three albums, which became known as “The Ditch Trilogy,” expressed these dark times in stark contrast to “Heart of Gold.”

This song was recorded at the first sessions for the Harvest album, which took place on Saturday, February 6, 1971 and were set up the night before.

Neil Young was in Nashville to record a performance for The Johnny Cash Show along with Tony Joe White, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. Elliot Mazer, a producer who owned nearby Quadrafonic Studios, set up a dinner party on February 5, inviting the show’s guests and about 50 other people. Mazer was friends with Young’s manager Elliot Roberts, who introduced the two at the gathering. Young and Mazer quickly hit it off when Neil learned that Elliot has produced a band called Area Code 615. Young asked if he could set up a session the next day, and Mazer complied.

Nashville has an abundance of studio musicians, but getting them to work on a Saturday could be a challenge. Mazur was able to get one member of Area Code 615: Drummer Kenny Buttrey. The other musicians he found were guitarist Teddy Irwin, bass player Tim Drummond, and pedal steel player Ben Keith. All were seasoned pros.

Keith, who had never heard of Neil Young, recalls showing up late and sitting down to play right away. He says they recorded five songs before they stopped for introductions.

A very influential musician, he was never too concerned about making hit records. His next-highest Hot 100 entry was his next single, “Old Man,” which reached #31.

At the time, Taylor and Young were huge stars, but Ronstadt had yet to land a big hit. Her talent was obvious to those around her, but poor song selection and promotion kept her from the top ranks. Young exposed her to arena crowds when he brought her along as the opening act on his Time Fades Away tour in early 1973, but it was another two years before she landed that elusive hit, going to #1 with “You’re No Good.”

In the liner notes to his Decade collection, Young said: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

This statement reflected Young’s aversion to fame, and was not meant to demean the song. In a later interview with NME, he clarified: “I think Harvest is probably the finest record I’ve made.”

Before separating them into two songs, Young wrote this together with “A Man Needs A Maid” as a piano piece – he described it as “like a medley.”

This was the song that tweaked Bob Dylan; Young had made no secret that he idolized Dylan, but when Dylan heard “Heart of Gold” he thought this was going too far. As quoted in Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Dylan complained, “I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to “Heart of Gold.” I’d say, that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me.”

“Heart Of Gold” is the name of the spaceship stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox in Douglas Adams’ book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. 

Young became the first Canadian to have a #1 album in the US when Harvest topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks in April 1972.

This song appears in the 1984 film Iceman, and on the soundtrack of the 2010 movie Eat Pray Love.

Lady Gaga references this in her song “You and I.” The line goes, “On my birthday you sung me ‘Heart of Gold,’ with a guitar humming and no clothes.”

In 2005, the CBC Radio One series 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version declared “Heart of Gold” to be the third best Canadian song of all time.

Stryper frontman Michael Sweet covered this for his 2014 I’m Not Your Suicide album. He also recorded a second duet version with country artist Electra Mustaine, who is the daughter of Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine.

Young revived the guitar riff for this song on CSN&Y’s “Slowpoke” in 1999.

Young has made it clear that the musicians who played on his tracks had a lot to do with their success. In an interview with the Musicians Hall of Fame, he said that “Heart of Gold” would not have been a hit without drummer Kenny Buttrey.

Tori Amos covered this on her 2001 album Strange Little Girls. She was trying to demonstrate how men and women hear different meaning in the same songs.

Heart of Gold

I want to live
I want to give
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.
It’s these expressions I never give
that keep me searching for a heart of gold
and I’m getting old.

I’ve been to Hollywood
I’ve been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold
I’ve been in my mind, it’s such a fine line,
that keeps me searching for a heart of gold
and I’m getting old.

Neil Young – Long May You Run

Always a favorite Neil Young song of mine. This was the title song on the joint album by Neil Young and Stephen Stills. Stills and Young wrote separately for the album, which Stephen contributing four songs, and Young adding five, including the title track.

It was going to be a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album but Crosby and Nash to leave for a while for commitments. Stills and Young scrubbed the tapes clean of any contributions made by their bandmates and resolved to keep the album a Stills-Young release. It would end up being credited to the Stills-Young Band.

Stills and Young toured on the album but after a few dates…Neil Young abruptly left the tour and sent a telegram to Stills…“Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.”

The song did chart in the UK at #71 in 1976.

 

From Songfacts

Neil’s beloved Pontiac hearse, “Mort” (a.k.a. “Mortimer Hearseburg”), was the inspiration for this song. Neil drove “Mort” from Toronto to Los Angeles, where he met Stephen Stills and formed Buffalo Springfield.

Neil was in Canada driving to Sudbury when ‘Mort’ broke down in Blind River, June 1965. (Which is contradictory to the lyrics; “well it was back in Blind River, in 1962, when I last saw you alive”).

In 1976, Stephen Stills and Neil Young formed The Stills-Young Band and released an album called Long May You Run, which turned out to be somewhat ironic when the collaboration quickly stalled.

Stills is a longtime collaborator of Neil’s, having worked with him first in Buffalo Springfield and then in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. However, they had a falling out only nine days into the Long May You Run tour. Young decided to abandon the project, leaving Stills with a mere telegram to explain his departure. It read: “Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.”

In addition to Young’s compilation album Decade this also appears on his 1993 album Unplugged

The last ever Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien on Friday January 22, 2010 finished in style when O’Brien’s final musical guest, Neil Young, performed this song in what appeared to be a poke at NBC. O’Brien had been asked to move his slot to 12:05 a.m., and the TV host refused to move his show to such a late hour, and instead negotiated a $45 million exit deal.

Neil Young performed this song at the Closing Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games to a rousing ovation of Canadian audience members. 

 

 

Long May You Run

We’ve been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come
We found things to do in stormy weather
Long may you run.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run.

Well, it was back in Blind River in 1962
When I last saw you alive
But we missed that shift on the long decline
Long may you run.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run.

Maybe The Beach Boys have got you now
With those waves singing “Caroline”
Rollin’ down that empty ocean road
Gettin’ to the surf on time.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run.